Italy Roundtable: The Kids Are All Right

Italy

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Remember last month when I said my fellow Italy Blogging Roundtable cohorts and I had some interesting discussions about what topic we were going to write about? Well, this is the one that started the discussion – KIDS. Two of the four of us are parents, the other two are (adamantly) not, so you can imagine how the suggestion became something more than just a casual one. In the end, we decided to give it another few weeks’ worth of thought, knowing that with such diverse child-related experiences we’d probably come up with an interesting array of blog posts. So, how did we do? There’s only one way to find out – keep reading.

I have said, repeatedly and since about the age of 12, that I did not want to have children. I’ve never been shy of saying this, partly because I knew my family wouldn’t disown me over such a decision and my friends were never surprised by it. I’ve always been happy for friends and family who were happily expecting a baby, but I never want to hold them at the hospital. (No, really. Even my own nephews. I’m quite content to wait until they’re less smelly and breakable, thanks.) I’m perfectly aware that in some parts of the US and other countries around the world, saying the words “I don’t want to have children” in mixed company will draw gasps, stares, and scolding (and in fact I got some of that when I blogged about being childless by choice a couple of years ago).

Yet I wasn’t averse to writing about the intersection of “kids” and “Italy” for this month’s Italy Roundtable, because whenever I’ve traveled through Italy I’ve been struck by how much I notice the children there. This probably sounds like I’m constantly being annoyed by little people in restaurants or museums, and so can’t help but notice – and be irritated by – Italian kids. On the contrary, my take-home memory when I think of “children in Italy” is one that makes me smile.

I’ve eaten in many a restaurant in Italy where children sit at the table with the adults, eating in a more-or-less civilized way, and then when dinner runs on a bit long (as Italian dinners are wont to do) they may get up and scurry around the restaurant while the grown-ups are allowed to continue talking. Rather than annoy other diners – or the restaurant staff – this has always seemed perfectly acceptable. I’ve seen waiters play-chasing kids between tables, or offering kitchen implements to play with. The children aren’t overly loud, they aren’t bothering other diners, and they aren’t being told to behave themselves. They’re acting like the little kids they are – and at the same time, they’re kind of being trained to expect dinner to last awhile, to entertain themselves when they’re done eating, and to let Mom and Dad have a more leisurely meal.

I’ve walked through Italian towns in the early afternoons when the crowds on the sidewalks aren’t the adults heading to or from the cafe or the office, but grandparents walking grandchildren home from school – often with a stop at the neighborhood playground. This may be an image that’s common in what we like to call “small town America,” but even when I was growing up in a small city we walked ourselves home from school. And of course having the time to personally pick up a child after school can be seen as a luxury or a sign of economic distress – if it’s not a retired grandparent performing pick-up duties, it may be an out-of-work parent. I’ve tried not to romanticize the picture every time I’ve seen it, but I admit that’s not easy.

I’ve heard from many traveling parents over the years who said they always loved bringing their kids to Italy. Not only was the promise of gelato enough to lure most children through a museum, having a child in tow often means more interactions with locals (and positive ones, at that). Trying to force onself into the fabric of a place can be difficult on a short trip, and then it can feel forced. Watching your toddler “speak” in smiling pantomime with a local woman outside a cafe, on the other hand, is the sort of thing you’ll remember for ages.

I remain thankful that I was born in a time and place when it’s (mostly) culturally acceptable for me to say that I don’t want children. I think of my maternal grandparents, who likely wouldn’t have had children except it was the 1940s and that’s just what you did back then. (They were lousy parents as a result.) But what many trips to Italy has made me realize is that while I don’t want to have children of my own, I also don’t want to live in a place that is inhospitable to children. I love the way Italians allow their kids to be kids while still demonstrating how they’ll need to act later as civilized adults. Italian parents don’t seem to subscribe to the “seen and not heard” philosophy of child-rearing, and while that has every possibility of being supremely annoying, I have yet to find it so.

A Few Minor Disclaimers

First of all, I reserve the right to be completely off-base about the way Italians raise their kids, since I’m an outsider on multiple fronts when it comes to this issue, so I’d love to hear from you if your experience is different.

Also, please note that I’m leaving out the whole “exodus of young people from Italy because the Italian culture doesn’t support innovation in business” topic, because – wow – that’s a book right there.

Finally, I’d like to state for the record that while I adore seeing little kids sidle up to pizzeria tables and dig into their very own pies that are the same size as the ones served to adults, I will never be able to find it in my heart to accept or forgive the abomination that is the “hot dog and french fry” pizza. Seriously, Italy?!? And you give us grief about pineapple?!?

Other Voices at the Italy Roundtable

So, what do my fellow Italy Roundtable bloggers have to say on the topic of KIDS? I can’t wait to find out! Click through to the following links to read each of their posts – and please leave comments, share them with your friends, and tune in next month for another Italy Blogging Roundtable topic!

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photos by olgite, Geomangio

Sara’s Famous Gin & Tonic [VIDEO]

Food

My mother is a level of fabulous that’s hard to explain if you’ve never met her, and it would take me too long in this post to give you reasons why you should think she’s fabulous. You’ll just have to trust me on this one – and accept, for starters, the fact that my mother makes a kick-ass gin & tonic.

She demonstrated her method for making the perfect G&T some years ago, but as I’d already had one of the aforementioned cocktails I couldn’t remember the exact recipe order later on. So this time, I got it on video.

cin-cin

The Original Cowgirl Jessie (AKA A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Horsewoman)

Personal

I was born on a horse farm in Connecticut. I was the little girl who didn’t wish for a pony – because I had one. At some point, I had a matching chaps-and-vest set of white cowhide with big black spots, and a cowboy hat I probably could have crawled into, it was so big.

Obviously, when the Toy Story movies came out and introduced the world to Cowgirl Jessie, I had to remind people that I was the original Cowgirl Jessie.

But that was before I had a blog.

So, quite belated, but no less true, here’s photographic evidence:

I think this is circa 1978-1979, when I was six or seven. Note the aforementioned ginormous cowboy hat. Sadly, I may have outgrown that chaps-and-vest set by this age.

Note also the horse show competition number affixed to my back. My father entered me in many a “lead line” competition back then, which were basically contests for tiny kids where an adult would lead the horse around a ring with said tiny human sitting on said horse, and if the kid didn’t freak out they’d win something. I won so many blue ribbons in “lead line” competitions, I tellyouwhat

To recap – I’m blue-ribbon good at sitting still (which is still true) and I evidently wasn’t as afraid of heights back then as I am now (AKA, that is a really tall horse).

Thanks, Mom, for sending this photo home with me.

Sixteen Years Ago Today

Personal

Sixteen years ago today,

  • I spent the day in a barn outside McMinnville rehearsing with my band.
  • I raced home, hurriedly showed, and frantically tried to not look frantic.
  • I got picked up outside my apartment, right on schedule, and was driven to a mystery location.
  • I was nervous when the mystery location turned out to be a sushi restaurant.
  • I had never eaten sushi.
  • I ordered teriyaki.
  • I tried every piece of sushi that arrived on his plate anyway.
  • I didn’t hate it.
  • I talked about family, and my desire to not have children, which I realized was an odd topic for a first date.
  • I was pleasantly surprised to hear he felt the same way.
  • I couldn’t hide my squeamishness when he ordered deep-fried shrimp heads, or when they arrived with several-inches-long antennae.
  • I turned to see him put a deep-friend shrimp head in his mouth, shrimp face pointing out, then watched as he moved it around with his tongue, saying (in a Mr. Bill voice), “Oh no! Don’t eat me!
  • I laughed.
  • (I was asked later why he got a second date.)
  • I went with him to a coffee shop on Hawthorne after sushi.
  • I raised an eyebrow when he gave his name to the barista as “Fidel.”
  • I was told his name is common enough, that it made sense to have a “coffee name.”
  • I agreed, that did make sense.
  • I was given a “coffee name,” but it didn’t stick.
  • I sat outside with him.
  • I jumped when a car honked its horn.
  • I was tired.
  • I got dropped off outside my apartment and fell into bed.
  • I don’t remember when we spoke next, but he did get a second date.

Happy first date anniversary to a man who still surprises me.

photo by Jessica Spiegel and may not be used without permission

Childless By Choice

About Nothing

You know how sometimes you make a decision and then later you question it – if not completely change your mind about it? It’s a feeling we’re all familiar with, whether we admit it to ourselves or not. But there’s one decision I made so long ago I can’t even remember it that I have never – not once – questioned. In fact, I don’t even think it was a decision in the first place.

I am childless by choice.

Why I May Never Like Christmas Again

About

Now that we’re past Halloween, “the holidays” are bearing down on us like a freight train. That is, as far as I’m concerned, a little bit good and a little bit bad.

I’ve always loved Thanksgiving – it is, by a long shot, my very favorite holiday of the year. It’s all about food (great food, too, if you’re eating at my mom’s house) and there’s no obligation to buy or give presents to people who, in all likelihood, don’t need whatever nicknack you’ve gift-wrapped for them. The biggest part of my affection for Thanksgiving is that it’s about getting together with some of the people I love most in the world. The TV might be on in the other room for part of the day because of some football game, but the vast majority of the time is spent sitting around a table surrounded by people I love, breaking bread and sharing wine with them and enjoying conversation that is always wonderful. Always.

Christmas, however, has lost much of its lustre for me.

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